After years of being overshadowed by solar and wind, geothermal is set to become a major player in California's renewable energy. Here is how geothermal is growing in California right now.

California Ramping Up Its Reliance on Geothermal
California Ramping Up Its Reliance on Geothermal

Emily Folk | Conservation Folks

California, spurred by concerns about the relationship between carbon emissions and climate change, is on track to transition to fully renewable energy production by 2045. Some of the biggest beneficiaries of the pivot to renewables have been wind and solar. Now, however, other renewables are starting to see significant growth.

After years of being overshadowed by solar and wind,  geothermal is set to become a major player in California's renewable energy. Here is how geothermal is growing in California right now, plus why experts believe the energy source is becoming popular.


California Looks to Geothermal

Last month, three California energy providers signed contracts for energy provided by two new geothermal plants — the first to be constructed in nearly a decade.

In the past, the high upfront costs of building new geothermal plants — which increases the prices of geothermal energy — caused slow adoption. Most of California's 43 existing geothermal plants are decades old, and there has been little progress on new plants in recent years. Right now, geothermal energy — which uses naturally occurring pockets of underground heat to generate power — provides just 4.5 percent of California's energy mix.

Now, questions raised by the push towards decarbonization have led energy sector leaders to reconsider the energy source, despite the high price tag.

It's likely that solar and wind won't be enough to provide the total decarbonization of the energy sector that California legislators have mandated. As a result, the energy sector in the state has been looking to other options, including geothermal, to generate renewable energy.

Geothermal also provides a few benefits over other types of renewable energy — like delivering more consistent energy than wind and solar, which can't generate power 24/7. Like geothermal heating and cooling systems, which can provide more consistent temperatures regardless of outside conditions, geothermal takes advantage of resources that are always available. As a result, geothermal energy production is highly stable and predictable.

As fossil fuels become less popular, states will likely need some kind of round-the-clock renewable energy source. According to some experts, geothermal seems like the best option to fill that role.


National Energy Trends Show Geothermal on the Rise

There are other indicators that energy experts think may point to a renaissance of geothermal energy, both within and beyond California.

Last year, a U.S. Department of Energy report found that geothermal power, boosted by recent technological advancements, could provide as much as 16 percent of the nation's power by 2050.

Then, last month, the Bureau of Land Management published an environmental impact statement on a California geothermal leasing area. This is the first step towards approving the land for geothermal energy usage since a draft statement was published back in 2012.

At the same time, the BLM is also leasing more and more public land across the country. In 2019, the Bureau leased more than 100,000 acres in its annual Nevada geothermal lease sale, up from just 27,100 acres the year before.


Geothermal May Help Fill the Growing Demand for Renewables

Geothermal energy — which has traditionally been overshadowed by more popular renewables like wind and solar — is experiencing some sudden growth.

California, seeing the need to rapidly increase its capacity to produce renewable energy, is looking to geothermal to help provide some of the energy that wind and solar cannot. At the same time, there are signs — like increased interest from the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Energy — that suggest the nation may be on the verge of a geothermal revolution.

While it's impossible to know how energy production will develop, calls for the expansion of renewable energy sources, coupled with interest in geothermal, suggests that the energy source could easily become as important as wind or solar through the decade.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag
Emily Folk - Contributing Author

Emily Folk - Contributing Author

Emily is an environmental writer, covering topics in renewable energy and sustainability. She is also the editor of Conservation Folks.

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